ENGLEWOOD, Colo — Read into John Elway’s mission statement to the new world of football and one can interpret the coronavirus offers an opportunity for the Broncos.
Not the virus itself, but the team’s response to it.
“We’re getting used to it,’’ Elway, the Broncos’ general manager, said in a Zoom interview Tuesday with 9News. “The way of traffic, and the way the building is set up – 6 feet. These (electronic social-distancing wrist) devices that we’re wearing that tell you how close we are to people and just how the way the building is working right now – it’s different.
“But we’ve had players in a couple days now so I think we’re getting used to it. Everybody will get used to the situation that we’re in and what we have to go through and move forward.
“And realize that things are going to be different for a long time. It’s not something where we have to get through a month or two. It’s going to be a six-month trek for us and if we make sure we follow all the protocols, I think we have a chance to be successful on the football field.”
In other words, it may be not necessarily be the best team that succeeds but the healthiest.
Still, there’s reason to wonder if this won’t be a difficult year to break in an offense with so much youthful talent and a new offensive coordinator.
Talent you’ll take any time, but young quarterback Drew Lock and even younger receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler and center Lloyd Cushenberry III didn’t get any offseason team activities, and won’t get any preseason games, either.
And offensive players young or old lost months of preparation time with first-year offensive coach Pat Shurmur.
Meanwhile, Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes II has three years with coach Andy Reid’s offense. Mahomes may be able to lead the Chiefs to 30 points if there was a game tomorrow.
“Sure, there is concern,’’ Elway said. “We are so young on the offensive side that I think no offseason has hurt us. I think also with no preseason games is not advantageous to us. The young guys are going to have to grow up fast.
“As an evaluator, we’re going to have to watch these guys in a short timeframe to be able to pick 53 guys as well as 16 guys on the practice squad and find the best 69 guys. It’ll be a test for us, but everybody is going through it. So whoever handles it the best I think will have the most success.”
Having the proper mindset and discipline to adjust to the new world of COVID-19 protocols may be one key to the Broncos’ 2020 season. More importantly is the development of quarterback Drew Lock from off-the-bench pleasant surprise at the end-of-last year to everyone knowing he is The Man this season.
“The good thing is we saw him for 5 games at the end of last year,’’ Elway said. “He handled those games very, very well. The encouraging thing about it is the game wasn’t too big for him. The way he played last year, we were all excited about the fact it was not too big for him and the energy he played with, the confidence he played with.
“Obviously, things are not going to be perfect this year because he’s still very young. He only has 5 games under his belt but we’re excited about what we saw in him last year and I’m sure Pat Shurmur will get him in situations where he will be successful.
“We think we got him some weapons around him that will also help him be successful but they’re young weapons. They’re going to have to come on fast.”
Elway added that after an early exchange of contract proposals, the team and safety Justin Simmons never got close enough to strike a deal. Simmons instead will play on a one-year, $11.441 million franchise-tag tender.
“We made an offer we thought was very, very fair but as time went on we never got very close,’’ Elway said. “Then I think as time went on the uncertainty of where the cap and everything was going we just didn’t feel comfortable going forward with a lot of guarantee. Hopefully we can get a deal. We’d love to keep Justin here as a Denver Bronco for a long time. Our hope is to get something done next year.”
And so where does that leave the overall state of the Broncos? Elway’s first five years as a general manager featured robust success – including five consecutive AFC West titles that should not be taken for granted, especially now that the Chiefs have won the last four division championships.
But it seems that after a four-year slump of missing the playoffs, the Broncos have found a solid head coach in Vic Fangio and talented young quarterback in Lock.
“I like where we are,’’ Elway said. “With the young talent that we have on the offensive side … I think by no means has Drew made it yet but I think you feel good about where he is and what we’ve seen in Drew.
“I think Vic will be much better in his second year. I think he did a good job last year in his first year as a head coach but I think he’ll be that much better this year. Defensively, with a year under their belt with Vic’s defense, will help us a lot, too.
“Plus with the additions we made on the defensive side we feel good about where we are. Obviously, we have a tough opening. We have Tennessee coming in on Monday night (September 14). Then we travel to Pittsburgh so we have to take it one week at a time.
“One thing we really have to do is we’ve got to play good football but we also have to maintain the discipline to the protocols of this virus. If we can do that, continue to learn with each practice, then we have a chance to win some football games.”